“What About When I’m Sixty-Four?” was published (Boise Weekly) May 8, 1997. Re-reading it, I was reminded of the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
What About When I’m Sixty-Four?
The day my wife turned 40, someone gave her a sweatshirt that said “I’D RATHER BE 40 THAN PREGNANT!” It was supposed to make her feel better about crossing that Mason-Dixon Line separating youth from decrepitude. I don’t know if the sweatshirt made her feel any better or not. By the time I thought to ask, she was pregnant and we had other things to talk about.
Now, for those of you who stopped having children back when you thought of ginseng and Rogaine as something only old people need, you missed out on some of the more interesting questions inquiring minds can come up with. You were probably never asked, “What will you do when she gets embarrassed because she has the oldest parents at third-grade open house?”
Or, “Have you thought about how feeble you’ll be when she graduates from high school?”
My favorite is, “Sooo, when she gets married and you’re dead, who’s gonna give her away?”
In answer to the latter, I tell them, “I’ve arranged for that, thank you very much. I’ve had a 3-D hologram made of myself, all teary-eyed and proud, in two versions … one in which I’m wearing a standard black tux and the other where I’m wearing a baby-blue tux with matching frilled shirt. When my daughter gets married, and if it so happens I am living-challenged at the time, the caterers will project my image onto the appropriate spot and she will stand next to it. And should she pick another color scheme, she’s on her own.”
That usually shuts them up. But I’m relatively lucky. I was only 42 when my daughter was born. May the god of snappy comebacks help that poor 63-year old lady who’s in the news for having a baby. She’s going to be answering rude questions until the day she dies. Or the day her kid learns to stay up on a two-wheeler.
Whichever comes first.
* * *
Things have gotten hinky in reproduction science. As if regular old sex weren’t weird enough, those whiz kids of the fallopian tubes have cooked up in-vitro fertilization, super-duper fertility drugs, surrogate mothers, freeze-dried sperm, abortion options, anti-abortion options, and just recently, cloning. It didn’t all show up at once, to be sure, but as new technologies started stacking up, some sort of synergy seems to have taken over. New developments are coming out of the woodwork like … well, like septuplets out of a healthy Catholic/LDS mixed marriage on a diet of raw oysters and estrogen.
Then, along comes Mrs. Arceli Keh, the oldest woman on record to have ever had a baby. She lied about her age, you see—told the fertility specialists she was a foxy 50—underwent a very expensive fertility program, borrowed an egg from a pre-menopausal woman, and produced a baby girl. Little Cynthia.
To date, I haven’t heard Mrs. Keh’s explanation as to why she wanted to have a baby at her age. Maybe she’s one of those people who’s idea of accomplishment is to get her name in the Guinness World Book at all cost. Think about it. Having a baby at age 63 isn’t any stranger than playing Monopoly for six months straight, or stacking Popsicle sticks up higher than anyone else, or making a submarine sandwich two miles long.
Or maybe she’s wanted to get on the Maury Povich Show and just couldn’t think of any other way to get there.
Then of course, there’s always the possibility she loves children. After all, it’s not unheard of for a woman to choose to be a mother.
Whatever her reason, people are talking—as people are wont to do about other people—and they don’t like it. Not a bit. Their hearts are in an approximation of the right place I suppose, because what concerns them most is the child’s future. How is a woman in her 70s going to have the energy to deal with a teenager, they ask. Who’s going to take care of little Cynthia should ol’ lady Keh kick the Play Skool bucket before the kid’s ready for solo living?
At this point, of course, it becomes a matter of odds. No doubt about it, a woman who gets into smorgasbord buffets on a senior discount may have trouble keeping pace with a toddler on a Cocoa Puffs high. No doubt about it, a 63-year old has less chance of living until her progeny comes through the Teen Typhoon and sails safely into Maturity Harbor. And no doubt about it, being an orphan is neither fun nor the preferred way to grow up.
Though in the end, it didn’t turn out bad for Little O. Annie, now did it?
* * *
Americans have a rich history of offering un-asked-for opinions on what other people should or should not be doing about making babies, so the controversy over Mrs. Keh’s kid is old hat. Early in Idaho’s history, the state’s fathers decided polygamy was nasty business. One woman per man was plenty, they decided, and put their moral outrage into law. Later on, when Red China adopted a policy of limiting children per family, we proclaimed that to be nasty business. A lot of people thought abortion being illegal was nasty business. Abortion’s legal now, and other people think it’s nasty business.
Of course, the abortion issue is King Cotton Swab on the “controversial reproductive options” list. These days, if a fella is rich enough, charismatic enough, or foolish enough to have a harem of willing brides, so be it. Law enforcement looks the other way. If Red China wants to put a lid on their population tidal wave, so be it. Corporate interests look the other way. We might not like it, but polygamists vote, too, say the politicians. And Chinese Commies buy Big Macs, Levis, and Bruce Willis movies as much as the next foreigner, say the corporations. So live and let live says the system.
But abortion remains the question without an answer. The fire without an extinguisher. The nation’s heartburn and there’s not a Tums in sight. People are passionately for legalized abortion, and people are passionately against it. Numbers don’t matter here. “X” percent for … “Y” percent against … doesn’t matter. It’s the passion that matters, and whatever laws get passed or rescinded won’t change things a whit against such passion. Just this last week, students at Greenleaf Academy in Middleton put a few thousand crosses in the ground next to Highway 20 to symbolize how many abortions are performed daily in America. At the same time, pro-choice forces are fighting any restriction on partial-birth abortions.
Never mind that some partial-birth abortions just may be a baby’s first breath away from infanticide. Never mind the students out in Greenleaf are too young, too naive, too self-righteous, and too indoctrinated to understand those factors that might bring a woman to choose abortion.
It wouldn’t be passion if it could be reasoned with. Right?
* * *
Maybe Mrs. Keh didn’t do the most practical, the wisest thing, by having a baby at her age. Advanced years and advanced wisdom don’t necessarily walk hand in hand, and it’s entirely possible Mrs. Keh is as dumb and unwise as any teenager straight off the Maury Povich Show.
But it’s also possible that Mrs. Keh knows exactly what she’s doing. It’s possible Mrs. Keh is moved less by stupidity than by love, and it behooves us to consider the odds once again.
For instance, the odds of little Cynthia being shaken to death in the middle of the night because Mom or Dad can’t get her to quit crying are almost zip. Watch the crime reports long enough and you’ll notice child abuse is largely a pastime for young parents. People in their sixties are usually patient enough to not rattle their kids into a coma out of frustration. They wouldn’t have lived long enough to see 60 if they were still that impatient, you see?
Another thing I’ll bet Mrs. Keh doesn’t do, she won’t be out partying with a bunch of her high school girl friends while Cynthia sits home watching Beverly Hills 90210 and eating last Saturday’s leftover pizza. People in their sixties generally have finished with partying.
I also predict Mrs. Keh will buckle up Cynthia like an antique Virginia smoked ham every time they get into the family car, and she’ll stick her head out every three minutes, just to be sure, when Cynthia is playing in the yard. I think Mrs. Keh will get Cynthia immunized against whooping cough and TB. She’ll be there to help Cynthia learn to read, do numbers, and memorize the lyrics to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” I think the kid will never show up at kindergarten wearing dirty clothes, and I think little Cynthia will be hugged and cared for and loved in a way a lot of little kids can only wish they were, and it won’t matter if she is embarrassed when her folks are the oldest to show up at third-grade open house. If she is, she’ll get over it.
But she’ll never get over being hugged and cared for and loved.
How do I know this stuff?
Okay, I’m guessing some. But I’m giving the benefit of a doubt to Mrs. Keh. I’m giving her the benefit of knowing what’s best for herself and her family. I don’t automatically mistrust her judgment because she’s 63. On the contrary, I’m prone more to trust her judgment because she’s 63.
And I only wish I could feel the same way about some thirty-somethings I know.
It was her choice, see? Things like babies always boil down to someone’s choice, whether the rest of us like it or not. And that includes you kids out in Greenleaf. Let’s hope Mrs. Keh chose wisely—that everyone chooses wisely when it comes to babies—then let’s butt the hell out.
May 8, 1997